River Project Dead In The Water, Critics Charge

November 22, 1990|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Staff writer

Maryland Save Our Streams has not generated enough bang with scarce government bucks to please some Severn River conservation activists.

Save Our Streams, a statewide non-profit agency, received $60,000 from the county government last year to launch the Severn River Project, a three-year educational campaign.

Although the county has given Save Our Streams a second $60,000 grant to continue this year, members of two other conservation groups active along the 23-mile-long scenic river complain that little has been accomplished so far.

Too much has been spent on salaries and administration, and not enough on involving residents, said members of the Severn River Association, a coalition of 90 civic groups, and the Severn River Commission, a government-appointed advisory panel.

"I haven't received a report from any of our members that Save Our Streams has been active in their neighborhood," said Stuart Morris, Severn River Association president. "I have to wonder what they have been doing for the past year."

Two Save Our Streams staff members assigned to the Severn River Project are paid about $40,000 a year.

Instead of financing the remainder of the project's $120,000 annual budget through community fund-raising, the group has relied too heavily on additional grants from the Department of Natural Resources and Save Our Streams' own financial resources, critics said.

"We got the very clear impression that Save Our Streams was going to go door-to-door to raise money and awareness at the same time," said Lina Vlavianos, a member of the Severn River Commission member.

"The whole point was to get people involved. Instead, my sense is that Save Our Streams is involved."

Cathy Emminizer, outgoing project coordinator for Save Our Streams, said the group had distributed pamphlets outlining home conservation measures to 12,000 of the 30,000 homes in the Severn watershed.

But much of the past year has been spent organizing the statewide Adopt-a-Stream program for the state Department of Natural Resources and writing pamphlets, she said.

Rodney Banks, an Anne Arundel planner supervising the county's contract with Save Our Streams, said the county narrowed the program's objectives after environmentalists questioned its accomplishments this summer.

For instance, Save Our Streams will no longer compete with county government for state grants to improve storm water drains, Banks said.

Instead, the group will focus on scheduling conservation workshops, writing educational literature and, most importantly, developing an inexpensive test of water quality for tidal streams, Banks said.

During the last decade, Save Our Streams popularized an inexpensive "bug test" -- a count of the number of insects in sediment samples -- for fresh-water streams.

Save Our Streams will work with Westinghouse Corp. to develop a "grabber," which volunteers can use to scoop up sediment from creek bottoms along the Severn. Later, the sediment can be tested for "little critters," whose presence indicates healthy water, Banks said.

"It's money well spent," said Banks. "Sometimes, when you're talking about an education program, it's difficult to come out with a tangible product."

Jonathan Pearson, a Connecticut native who took over the Severn River Project early this month, will be kept busy with the new objectives, said Emminizer. A former Peace Corps volunteer in Micronesia, Pearson has experience in broadcast journalism and political organizations, Emminizer said.

"We're moving into a new phase," said Emminizer. "We'll be doing more outreach, getting more information into the community and doing more grass-roots organization."

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